COP26: What are the Key Takeaways?
Updated: Jan 5
COP26 is over and the outcome - The Glasgow Pact - is not what many had been hoping for. The Glasgow Pact, which was agreed upon and adopted by the 197 nations in attendance at the UN conference, unfortunately won’t do enough to prevent average global temperatures from rising 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; with forecasts predicting that, with what was agreed in Glasgow, we will still experience an average temperature rise of 2.4°C.
Here we’ll provide a brief overview of the key outcomes from COP26.
What was discussed at COP26, and by whom?
Unlike COP22 through to COP25, this conference was the first since the Paris Agreement (made at COP21) where expectations have been this high. This is because of how much the narrative has changed over the last couple of years and, as such, the expectation has been for parties to make enhanced commitments towards mitigating climate change. Leaders from almost 200 countries attended whilst controversially for some, the fossil fuel industry was the largest delegation at the conference with 503 people present.
With a last minute change from India and China to the wording and the subsequent strategy around coal, these nations pledged only to ‘phase-down’ their use of the fossil fuel as opposed to the full ‘phase-out’ which is deemed imperative by climate scientists. The reasoning from India and China’s side is that they feel they deserve an opportunity to experience the economic growth from coal that the Global North had thanks to their historical reliance on it.
Yet, with this caveat, The Glasgow Pact is in many ways an underwhelming and unsatisfactory agreement and, although the Pact contains reference to the crucial threshold of 1.5°C, the promises and strategies from international governments won’t be enough. The road to reaching it now seems increasingly tortuous. "China and India will have to explain themselves and what they did to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world," said the COP26 president, Alok Sharma. The smaller states, those least responsible but most affected by climate change, claim that they have been put in the firing line of a doomed compromise.
Many delegates have criticised the change to the initial drafts, with Switzerland and the Marshall Islands describing "disappointment" over the phase-down on coal. Fourteen days of long negotiations came to an end with a hammer blow from President Alok Sharma, who was moved to tears. "I am deeply sorry”, he said, “but (the concession on coal) is vital to protect this package”.
So, what are the key outcomes?
Given such a critical concession on coal, it is no mystery that this long-awaited pact (which arrived after long and complex negotiations that lasted a day longer than the initial schedule) has not met the high expectations which were shared by many before the Glasgow summit. Let's now walk through five of the key takeaways from COP26.
1. The 1.5°C target has been reaffirmed
The commitment to stay "well below (a) 2 degree" average global temperature increase, and to remain within the 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels, was reaffirmed. This is because 1.5°C is the amount considered by scientists to be the most acceptable temperature rise in order to prevent the most disastrous consequences of the climate crisis. In terms of policy, more than one hundred countries signed the U.S. and European Union–led Global Methane Pledge and agreed to collectively reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
2. The challenges of decarbonisation
The issue with coal is that it’s the most polluting fossil fuel of all. If we want to keep global warming within liveable limits, we must find a way to simultaneously break from our dependence on it and implement a just transition to a clean energy system. The Glasgow Pact is the first time that fossil fuels have been so directly mentioned in a UN talk declaration but, compared to the first drafts of the agreement, the final text is (as stated above) not enough.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, global CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45% below 2010 levels by 2030. However, the aim is to reach zero net emissions by mid-century but the 2050 deadline is missing, and countries like India, China and Russia have already moved the deadline to 2060, if not 2070.
Countries are now however required to update their decarbonisation commitments, known as NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), annually by 2022.
3. Climate finance
One of the biggest obstacles to climate action – especially when speaking about action at a global scale – is the matter of who should pay for it. This is because developing countries need funds from richer, developed nations and organisations (i.e. USA, the EU) which hold the greatest share of responsibility for global ecological damage. £100billion a year has been pledged from the Global North in order to be able to assist the Global South to adapt to the consequences of climate change, and to be able to solve the damage already caused by the environmental crisis. This was a sore point and one of the most thoroughly discussed.
The Glasgow Pact, however, doesn’t specify exactly how this money will be distributed. Whilst this commitment has in fact already been reiterated for years and never upheld. Of the wealthier countries, it has primarily been the US and the EU who have put up resistance to renewed demands for financial support as they provide a lot of the current funding.
4. Proliferation of nature-based alternatives
The German Federal Environment Ministry announced that it would contribute an additional €10 million to the Global EBA (ecosystem-based adaptation) Fund, a ground-breaking funding mechanism which was established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) for the sake of supporting nature-based climate change adaptation solutions.
Despite the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for 50% of overall climate funding to be dedicated to adaptation, as well as the cost-effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation as a climate change strategy, it is only by 2025 that developed countries look set to mobilise $40bn in adaptation funding. However, the need has also been highlighted for “additional work” in order to help countries to both measure and track their adaptation efforts.
5. Fighting deforestation and defending ecosystems
Leaders from 131 countries, which contain more than 90% of the Earth's forests, have signed an agreement to halt deforestation by 2030. To achieve this goal, 11 countries in the Western world and the entire European Union have made available $12 billion. In addition, US President Joe Biden has announced that he will propose to Congress to contribute another $9 billion, while private sector funding is set to add another $7.2 billion. This is just one of the aforementioned ‘nature-based solutions’.
What are the reactions to COP26?
Many of the political leaders and delegates who took part in COP26 said they are mostly satisfied with the agreement reached.
John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said:
“We are closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos and securing cleaner air. As we leave Glasgow, our code word is going to be implementation, follow-up and follow-through”.
Alok Sharma also reiterated how, despite the setbacks and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the content of The Glasgow Pact, history has been made in Scotland, whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that the agreement is:
“… a big step forward, although there is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years. I hope that we will look back on COP26 in Glasgow as the beginning of the end of climate change”.
The general consensus however, is that The Glasgow Pact will not be enough. One of the first to react to the official announcements was Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist and leader of the Fridays For Future movement, who tweeted:
“The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever”.
Whilst during one of the many Fridays for Future marches which took place in Glasgow during the talks, Thunberg added in a speech that:
“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve the crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place… The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action”.
Although COP26 resulted in a final deal, the meeting drew further criticisms. One reason for this was that many of the representatives from different non-governmental groups and the research community were prevented from observing the discussions.
The success of the summit will be judged on whether countries and companies can keep the 1.5°C goal alive. Many experts, however, have said it is difficult to see how COP26 can contain temperatures below this.
However, not everything ends in Glasgow. Some countries still have to deliver their national plans by 2022, and this will be followed by a programme to accelerate emissions cuts, with results being presented at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheik in November 2022. So, how do you think COP26 went? Was it a greenwashing PR stunt, or is this the end of climate change?
For more information on this topic, head over to our dedicated section on the Climate Crisis.
Edited by Michael Anderson